The First Ambush: Hijacking the Human Brain
‘Unbeknown to me at the time, the army’s training and/or indoctrination would come to shape my life, my decisions and my neurological processes for years to come. I suppose at the time we took it all in our stride and laughed it off. But we as people and in particular our brains were being prepared for the inhuman rigours and demands of traditional war fighting, closing with and engaging the enemy and by extension modern international conflicts’ – Ryan Hall, British infantry, 2000-2008
A major new report has just been published drawing on veterans’ testimony and around 200 studies from the last half-century to explore for the first time the effects of modern army employment on soldiers, particularly their initial training. The studies are mainly the work of military academic research departments in the UK and US, supplemented by research in other countries including Australia, Canada, Germany, and Norway. The report finds that army employment has a significant detrimental impact on soldiers’ attitudes, health, behaviour, and financial prospects. This is partly due to soldiers’ war experiences, but also to how they are recruited and trained, how they are conditioned by military culture, and how they re-adjust to civilian life afterwards.
It reveals how in the process of transforming civilians into soldiers, army training and culture forcibly alter recruits’ attitudes under conditions of sustained stress, leading to harmful health effects even before they are sent to war. Among the consequences are elevated rates of mental health problems, heavy drinking, violent behaviour, and unemployment after discharge, as well as poorer general health in later life.
How Society Shapes Who We Are
The Political Self explores how our social and economic contexts profoundly affect our mental health and well-being, and how modern neuroscientific and psychodynamic research can both contribute to and enrich our understanding of these wider discussions. It therefore looks both inside and outside—indeed one of the main themes of the book is that the conceptually discrete categories of “inner” and “outer” in reality constantly interact, shape, and inform each other. Severing these two worlds, it suggests, has led both to a devitalised and dissociated form of politics, and to a disengaged and disempowering form of therapy and analysis.
Breaking the Silence
There is internationally the deep power of music, dance, and art with all the meta-understandings and meaning that come from them. However, our species depends on speech, on a voice to communicate. If a baby’s cry did not resonate at a profound level, the baby would die, incapable of attending to its needs. We are constructed in a relational way, primed to hear and be heard. All around the world we are still dealing with the generational pain which was transmitted when a culture developed in which “children should be seen and not heard”, where the unmet need of wounded adults meant there was no space for the actual child. And all around the world we are witnessing groups who cannot bear to hear the pain of others. Subjects are turned into objects by silencing them, not allowing them a voice. Sometimes “the other” is a child, sometimes the other is defined by gender, race, religion, sexuality, class, or politics.
Challenging the Myths Surrounding Sexual Abuse and Sexual Offenders
There are few crimes which evoke more horror and loathing than sexual abuse, especially when the victim is a child. Yet in the late 1960s, when I first began a residency in psychiatry, there were also no established evaluation and treatment programs for the sexual offender.
The Tragedy of Crookham Court School
In 1969 Ian Mucklejohn went as a supply teacher to Crookham Court School, a private boys’ school in Berkshire, where he kept a diary of its eccentricities and odd characters. But it became clear that these peculiarities disguised a sinister undercurrent. Years later, he helped to expose one of the biggest scandals in modern British education, as evidence emerged of the sexual abuse by teachers of dozens of boys at the school. He writes here about the book recounting how the abuse came to light and the lessons that need to be learned.
How early traumatic experiences, and our primitive responses to them, become embedded in our personalities
We live in fascinating times, where recent advances in trauma theory, attachment theory, relational psychoanalysis, and infant research not only allow us, but require us, to revisit and reconsider the fundamental tenets of our theory and practice.
Are we headed toward human extinction? All inhabited continents are engaged in military conflict, and there is no foreseeable end in sight. World superpowers, rogue nations, and international politics fuel existing warfare, leading to repetitive cycles of death, despair, transgenerational trauma, and systemic ruin.